Commonplace representations of bureaucracy  (those that usually cross the minds of people not doing any bureaucratic work) make it look like a meaningless (because dull, repetitive and boring) activity. For most people, bureaucracy is as grey and empty as it can get. Though widespread, such commonplace representations can be shown to be wrong.

Jean Tardieu (1903-1995), a French theatre writer (and also musician and poet), manages to effectively challenge the idea that bureaucracy is meaningless in a play written in 1955, titled Le Guichet (best translated as The Counter). The play has four characters: the Clerk (le Préposé), the Client (le Client), the Radio (la Radio), the Loudspeaker Voice (La Voix du Haut-Parleur) and the Diverse Noises Outside (Bruits Divers Au-Dehors). The presence of some non-human characters (such as the Diverse Noises Outside) is one of the distinctive characteristics of Tardieu’s theatre. The play itself is part of a trilogy, called The Triple Death of the Client (La triple mort du client), along two other plays, namely The Lock (Le serrure), which tells the story of the client of a brothel and The Furniture (Le meuble), telling the story of an invisible client who wants to buy a piece of furniture.

Tardieu is often associated with the theatre of the absurd (that was becoming a big thing in the Frances of the 1950s). Be that as it may, The Counter is, at least in my reading, mostly a play about how apparently meaningless activities such as being a clerk or street-level bureaucrat working at a counter are actually filled with meaning.

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